234. TMTF Reviews: The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds

This blog now reviews video games, because Zelda. I believe no further explanation is needed.

Well, I suppose a little explanation won’t hurt. The Legend of Zelda is a series of games by Nintendo in which a green-clad hero named Link explores the fantasy world of Hyrule: fighting monsters, solving puzzles, conquering dungeons and occasionally rescuing princesses. The Zelda series, which spans over twenty-five years and more than a dozen games, is possibly the most critically-acclaimed in the video game industry. Zelda games are generally classics at worst, and masterpieces at best.

(Except for… those games. We don’t speak of them.)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS is the first new Zelda game in a couple of years. As a devoted fan of Zelda games, I was… not very excited.

A Link Between Worlds is an indirect sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System more than twenty years ago. Even though the game is an undisputed masterpiece, I didn’t enjoy A Link to the Past as much as, well, pretty much any other game in the Zelda series.

I expected A Link Between Worlds to cash in on the longstanding popularity of A Link to the Past. I didn’t like the new game’s art style. What concerned me most of all were the game’s two biggest innovations: a new gameplay mechanic that seemed like a lame gimmick, and a largely nonlinear structure.

In short, I expected not to be impressed by A Link Between Worlds. I knew it would be a good game—heck, it’s Zelda, and Zelda never disappoints—but my expectations were (relatively) low.

How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

A Link Between Worlds

In all the best possible ways, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds feels like a very old game. There are no overbearing tutorials (a problem in recent Zelda games); rather, the player learns by doing, which is much more fun than being told what to do. A Link Between Worlds, like the earliest Zelda games, also takes a minimalistic approach to story. As much as I love a complex plot and nuanced characters, I’ll be the first to admit the game’s narrative simplicity works in its favor.

The game’s production values—music, graphics and all that sort of thing—are top-notch. Advanced graphics have never been Nintendo’s strong suit, but the game’s visuals have a charming storybook quality to them. (They’re especially lovely when viewed in 3D.) As for the music, well, Zelda music has always been superb. This game is no exception.

The basic gameplay in A Link Between Worlds is typically effective Zelda stuff: walk, swing sword, raise shield, etc. This game adds the usual oddball assortment of weapons and tools—bombs, boomerangs, magic rods and so on—but with a twist: they are now rented and bought.

See, there’s this longstanding Zelda tradition of each dungeon containing a tool of some kind, along with puzzles that can only be solved with that tool. It’s kind of a lock-and-key dynamic.

This game throws that tradition out the window. Almost every weapon, tool and item can be rented or bought right from the start of the game. I was skeptical at first of such a system—and frankly, I missed the joy of discovering each dungeon’s new tool—but it worked pretty well.

Since most tools are available to the player from the beginning, dungeons no longer have to be completed in any particular order. The player, after a certain point in the game, is given a map marked with a bunch of red Xs and told, “Those are dungeons. Have fun!” Now, I don’t mind linearity in games. There’s satisfaction in completing linear objectives, and I find it almost reassuring to have a set path to follow. Having such freedom in A Link Between Worlds, however, was awesome. I could go anywhere. With two kingdoms to explore—one light, one dark—that’s a lot of freedom.

Heck, I could even switch dimensions. Players of A Link Between Worlds can merge into flat surfaces to become two-dimensional paintings.

Link with PaintingThis gimmick seemed really lame at first. Becoming a painting? Bah! Boring! Upon actually trying it, however, I realized this gameplay mechanic is brilliant. As painting, players can move around, pop in and out of walls and reach all kinds of unexpected places. Like the portals in the Portal games, this mechanic totally changed my perspective. It’s even used to switch universes; appropriately to the game’s title, it serves as a literal link between worlds.

The dungeons in A Link Between Worlds are, like all Zelda dungeons, excellent: packed with puzzles and monsters and treasures, with a boss (i.e. a uniquely challenging enemy) at the end.

This is not a game for players who hope simply to hack and slash their way to victory. No puzzle is painfully difficult, and there’s an unobtrusive hint system, but most players will do much more thinking than fighting.

And, of course, there’s the usual slew of minigames, side quests and stuff to collect. I should also mention how easy the map and item interfaces are to use; while buttons are used for most gameplay, the 3DS touchscreen is utilized for maps and menus.

Ironically, considering how low my expectations were at first for A Link Between Worlds, I can’t find much to complain about. The game seems just a bit short. I would have liked to have seen the setting and backstory fleshed out more, and the plot lacked the emotional oomph of other Zelda games. This game is one to be remembered for the gameplay, not the story or characters.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a great game—not merely a good game, but a truly great one. My only lasting regrets are that it’s over so soon, and I shall have to wait at least a couple of years for the next Zelda.

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